Friday, February 01, 2008

Pay by Height - Controversy at a Buffet

Whenever buffets make the news it is generally about an issue involving price. An article appeared in New York Newsday recently reporting an incident that took place at a sushi buffet on Long Island.

The buffet has a policy to charge children's prices based upon height. This seems rather unusual, but the buffet claims that it is a common practice in restaurants in New York City. Consumer bureaus and restaurants in Manhattan that were contacted by the newspaper stated that they had never heard of such a practice. I have never been to this buffet and seen the giraffe ruler at the entrance at which they have kids measure up for what mom and dad are going to pay for their meal.

The news story reports that an 11 year old came in with her parents and measured four feet, eight inches tall - two inches over the limit for children's prices. The child was to be charged the full $19.95 adult price for the weeknight dinner. (Just aside - this is a very expensive buffet and that is the reason that I have not patronized it.) The parents, upon hearing what it was going to cost for their skinny, but tall, little girl to eat, complained to the manager who gave them no satisfaction and then left - and, evidently, alerted the "media". The manager had referred the parent to speak with the owner - but the owner does not speak English.

The restaurant's policy - which is posted and not hidden -is that children three and a half feet to four and a half feet pay half the adult price, children under three and a half feet eat for free, and children over four and a half feet pay the full adult price. There is no state law that prohibits basing price on height and this is not a human rights violation - as the parent tried to pursue. It is the right of the restaurant to base their pricing as they see fit.

The story was picked up by the Dr. Phil Show and they would like the child to come on the show. I am not sure why - though I am sure one can spin this into a major tragedy - "Tall child denied her sushi dinner!" Oh yeah! The girl has not accepted the invitation to go on the show - yet.

The complaint by the parent was that the restaurant made an incorrect assumption that a child's height will determine how much they will eat. The newspaper sought an explanation from the restaurant but they will not comment. Another neighboring restaurant - East Buffet - which I have reviewed on this site - also has the same pay by height for children policy. They state that they started this two years ago. I had not noticed when I was last there and perhaps it is not as obvious. East Buffet would comment to the Press as to why they have this policy and from a business point of view it actually makes some sense. They state that when you base the price by age you put the employees and the restaurant in the position of guessing or taking the not always so reliable parent's word about how hold the child is. They state that many parents would insist that a child was much younger than the child obviously was. One incident involved a "child" who was six feet tall and the parents insisted that the child was ten years old. They claim that with the height system there is absolutely no question. The child is measured and the price is established as you enter - no question, no guessing, no confabulating. They did say that this policy is flexible and if a parent insists that their tall child is much younger than the height would imply they will adjust the price down.

A number of restaurants were asked for their reaction to a pay by height policy and they all said that they had never heard of such a thing, but that it would be bad for business.

I must say - on a personal note - that my six year old niece who eats little more than a bowl of rice and some jello and was charged $9 recently when I took her to a Chinese buffet would be better to be charged based upon her height as she is small for her age - and even at half price would have been better than the fixed children's price that I was charged for her meal. I can also see how a tall child could eat much less than a little "round" child. (Pay by weight - wouldn't that be a controversial idea!)

The "Pay by Height" policy for children does make sense as a practical and non-disputable way to determine the price. Other than East, for all of the buffets that I have been to, no place is doing this. Perhaps you have seen this done? Let us know and let us know what you think about this!


Anonymous said...

i have seen several pay by height policy now in buffets and restaurants

only very few customers complain and cause a scene but a majority of them respects it and understands why

Anonymous said...

i own few buffet over the country, miami,FL. Los Angels, CA. Edison, NJ. ect,. we all have this problem, where a family come in and the parents will give an unreal age for the kids. i have witnessed this myself, where the children confronted their parents for providing fake age. "shut your mouth" was the response that they get from their parents. this is the kind of lesson and education thy are showing their kids at this age, i wonder what kind of message are you (as a parent) are senting to your kids?

i don't want to say no more.

P.S. i believe if you ask for a discount they might will give it to you, because i do. i don't like to be treated as an ignorant person nor a fool.

Laurie Bradley said...

I remember The Royal Fork Buffet doing " pay by weight " when I was very young. Of course that was over 30 years ago and people were not so terribly touchy or litigious back then.